Fear of missing out or FOMO is a real thing. But in saying yes to everything, are you missing something?
I've written another post about digital minimalism, before I knew it as digital minimalism, a personal philosophy for technology use. Cal Newport describes the movement in his book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. Newport explains that technology is not inherently good or bad, but can be used in ways that have a positive or negative effect on individuals' lives. He suggests that adopting a philosophy of digital minimalism can guide personal choices around technology use to maximise the benefits to our lives.
One of Newport's most valuable points is to consider the costs of technology use, particularly opportunity costs. There are new scientific terms for some of the potential direct costs of cell phone use, including text neck, nomophobia (fear of not having access to a connected mobile phone), and phantom vibration syndrome or ringxiety. Opportunity cost is a term that comes from economics, referring to what you might miss out on when you choose to do something else. In economics, opportunity cost often refers to money or factors related to financial position. In the case of technology use, opportunity cost refers to the loss of time that might have been spent doing something more beneficial to you. In addition, just because there is benefit, doesn't mean it's worth it. In the book, benefits of technology are examined critically in light of actual use and in consideration of the opportunity cost. For example, the desire to catch up with family and friends overseas on social media.
Value: Family and friends are important.
Goal: Stay in touch with family and friends.
Behaviour: Check Facebook regularly and see what's going on with family and friends.
Oh cousin Trish's new baby is growing so fast!
Look, Auntie Belle is finally retiring!
Oh no, Granny has dyed her hair purple again!
That's right, it's June's birthday today!
There is value in gaining this information. You feel connected, you know what's going on, you can quickly communicate through comments, likes, direct messages, etc.
Unexpected benefits: After sending a few messages/comments/likes, you spend 30* additional minutes scrolling through the newsfeed, laughing at funny memes, becoming informed about local activities, and signing important petitions. These are unplanned activities, but also beneficial. Laughing keeps the doctor away, after all; you're thrilled to learn about the Lululemon pop up sale happening in your town, and; social media provided an efficient way to support a cause you believe in.
These are great benefits! But... are they worth it? *My guess is that for most people checking only once per day for 30 extra minutes is a conservative estimate.
Opportunity costs: 30 minutes/day = 3.5 hours/week = 182 hours/year = 7.5 days/year. What positive benefits could I have gained from doing something else with that time? Though I enjoyed those 30 minutes of laughing, information-gathering, and advocating, would I have reaped greater benefit from spending that time differently?
Reflecting back to the value: You might value time on Facebook for catching up with your people overseas, but you might find you spend several hours scrolling for each hour of family reunion time. Reconsidered, that time scrolling might have been better spent in a higher quality interaction with family, such as an email or a phone call. You might also have used this time to go shopping with a friend or get involved in saving the sea turtles.
Does the time I spend non-deliberately using technology positively or negatively impact my life?
In consideration of my values, life goals, and skillset, is this the best use of my time?
This is just one example, which may not reflect your values or behaviours. But perhaps you'll be inspired to look at your technology use and be more intentional about your behaviour. Reading Digital Minimalism may provide just the inspiration needed!
In addition to a whole lot of thoughtful ideas about our technology use, Newport describes a plan for assessing and consciously establishing your own philosophy and actions related to technology use. It starts with eliminating non-essential technology use, then slowly adding back in only those tools that add substantial value to your life. Importantly, he also talks about replacing technology with other things that link your goals. Those 30 minutes each day are going to be filled with something, so be deliberate about what goes in there. The Minimalists have a similar plan for eliminating extra stuff from your life.
Digital Minimalism is a short book that conveys a few novel ideas that could probably have been the topic of a blog post. However, there is more to the message. It's not just about use of technology. It's about living deliberately according to your own values. It's about taking the time to think about your life, the experiences you want to have, and the mark you want to leave.
Research has shown that spending money on experiences bring us more happiness than buying things. Here's a super infographic based on research from Berkeley University of California illustrating the timeline of happiness contrasting buying stuff versus buying experiences. As a perpetual photo taker, I anxiously await research that shows that experiences without selfies make better memories because if that's the case, it'll take a whole other book to convince me to change my photo happy habits! Luckily, research shows that taking photos increases ones engagement and enjoyment. Whew, safe for now. Or not?
This idea of minimalism is rampant in other areas, too:
- Financial Minimalism - Mister Money Moustache. Early Retirement through Baddassity. Spend money wisely.
- Stuff Minimalism - The Minimalists. Live a Meaning Life. Use things wisely.
- Work Minimalism - Marie Forleo. The world needs that special gift that only you have. Use your skills wisely.
- Technology Minimalism - Cal Newport. Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. Use technology wisely.
- Activity Minimalism - Cal Newport. Focused Success in a Distracted World. Use your attention wisely.
When it comes down to it, all these people (and many more) are saying the same thing. Make your actions match your values. Use your resources to optimise your life. Do the (few) things you love. Share your gifts with the world.
"If you want to maximize the amount of value you feel in your life, the mathematics are clear: You want to put as much of your time and effort as possible into the small number of things to give you these huge rewards. When you think about it that way, fear of missing out looks like, just mathematically speaking, a really bad strategy."
- Cal Newport, from his interview with GQ.